FAIRMONT,W.Va. – With the presidential election two weeks away,Democratic Party leaders in West Virginia are trying different tactics – some might suggest Republican approaches – to win the state for John Kerry.
At a rally here Saturday at the National Guard Armory,Bible-quoting Democrats used tactics more commonly associated with Republicans,ranging from Baptist revival call-and-repeat mottos to country-rock anthems,to rally voters back into the blue column.
In 2000,President Bush won the state by 6 percentage points,even though more than 60 percent of voters were registered Democrats – twice the number of registered Republicans.
The state's five electoral votes could have changed the outcome of the election,which Bush won 271-267 over Al Gore.
Allan Hammock,chair of the political science department at West Virginia University,said this year Republicans are making the good use of “wedge issues,which appeal to more conservative Democrats and makes it possible for a person who claims to be a Democrat to vote for a Republican candidate … and we have a lot of conservative Democrats in West Virginia.”
Last week,the Kerry campaign pulled TV ads from many stations in West Virginia and cancelled the candidate's appearances in the state. Nick Casey,state Democratic Party chairman,said the party pulled the ads because Kerry is winning,though most recent polls show a dead heat among likely voters.
In a state where residents value devotion to God and gun rights,Democrats showed a side not often portrayed in the national media.
Cecil Roberts,president of United Mine Workers of America for nine years,described the rally the way an evangelical preacher would speak about his congregation. He said the believers have more work to do.
“This rally is more like a revival at the Baptist church – speaking to the converted,” he said. “If they all leave here and get 10 people apiece,we'll be in great shape.”
After an opening prayer,speeches mixed nostalgic narratives about working on cars in garages and eating homemade pepperoni rolls with a toe-tapping recorded rendition of the late John Denver's Mountain State tribute,“Country Roads.”
Don Hayes and the Country Raiders ripped through Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Gimme Three Steps,” to pave the way for the state's best-known politicians and one of the party's biggest names – Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Kennedy said that his brother,President John F. Kennedy,could not have won the 1960 election without West Virginians' support.
After asking veterans sitting on bleachers and in metal chairs to stand to be recognized for the second time during the rally,Kennedy told a story about Kerry's service in Vietnam during which he saved the life of soldier Jim Rassman by pulling him out of a river.
“John Kerry will never leave anyone behind,” Kennedy said. “Will you stand with us? Will you be there?”
At a post-rally news conference,Kennedy opted for a minor costume change,donning a blazer over his tie-less button-down shirt. Held in a locker room,the news conference was more than a few country miles away from the Capitol's press gallery where suits and ties prevail.
Kerry shares West Virginians' values,Kennedy said,including “peace,the environment,jobs and the future.”
Jennings O'Dell Jr.,a 77-year-old veteran and Bootherville,W. Va.,resident,said he looks forward to a Kerry-led future. He said the rally was just the motivation West Virginias needed and that he supports Kerry because of his military service and because Bush “stole” the 2000 election
“This is the most important election we've ever had,” O'Dell said. “I still think he stole that election – I'll believe that till the day I die.”
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire reporter Ivy Meagan Smith also contributed to this story.